Coronavirus concerns prompt breakthrough on government talks

Identical statements issued simultaneously by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael say detailed talks to start

The pressure to form a government amid the growing coronavirus crisis appears to have forced the hand of Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar.

The pressure to form a government amid the growing coronavirus crisis appears to have forced the hand of Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar.

 

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are to commence “in depth detailed” talks on the formation of government, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have announced.

In identical statements issued simultaneously by their parties, the two leaders said that they had held “constructive discussions” in recent days “about a series of policy issues and the current political situation”.

“They have decided that teams from the two parties should now commence in depth detailed talks,” the statement.

Significantly, it also noted that the two parties would continue their discussions with the Green Party, which they hope will form part of a coalition government.

“Both Leaders are acutely aware of the enormous challenges facing the country particularly with the onset of Covid-19,” they said.

The breakthrough after weeks of inconclusive contacts between various parties comes amid mounting concerns in Government about the threat from the coronavirus, the social and economic impact its anticipated spread will have.

They also said they would “enter the talks as equal partners determined to develop proposals which will serve the interests of the people of Ireland” - interpreted in political circles as an acknowledgement that any coalition government would feature a rotating Taoiseach, in which Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar would alternate as the head of government.

Mr Varadkar has previously said he wished to go into opposition after a poor general election result, but would consider entering government if opposition parties failed to form a government.

However, the pressure to form a government amid the growing coronavirus crisis appears to have forced his hand.

The Taoiseach’s spokesman said that teams from the two parties would now begin in depth talks but that “formal”negotiations on a programme for government would only begin if Mr Varadkar obtains the approval of his parliamentary party, which he will seek next week.

In an email to Fine Gael members, Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael had given Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil “more than a month to form a Government without us, either together or separately”.

He said: “They have failed to do so, and there appears to be little prospect that they will. It had been my intention to allow them more time. However, the public health emergency posed by Covid-19 marks a dramatic change in context.

“Decisions and choices may need to be made in the coming months that require a Government with a working majority in the Dáil and Seanad. I have always said that Fine Gael would put the country first as we always have. That’s our tradition and these are our values. Fine Gael is the party that founded the State, created its institutions and declared a Republic. Now, once again, it seems we are needed to stand by the State and our Republic.”

Mr Varadkar has appointed Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys and Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton as negotiators.

Mr Varadkar said he met Mr Martin and they agreed “we would appoint negotiating teams to continue talks that commenced last week”.

“We agreed that any Government formed involving our parties would have to be based on an agreed policy platform that builds on and protects the progress made by the last two Governments while responding to the demand for real change that people voted for in the General Election.

“We also agreed that that it would be an equal partnership between two parties of similar strength. We agreed that we would engage with other parties willing to serve alongside aside us so they can implement many of their policies and ambitions for Ireland.

“So, today I appointed a Negotiating Team led by the Tánaiste and Deputy Leader, Simon Coveney. The other members are Paschal Donohoe, Heather Humphreys and Hildegarde Naughton. This may be supplemented by others as things develop. There will also be a Reference Group chaired by Richard Bruton to ensure our policy priorities are advanced in any discussions.

“The Group will include outgoing Cabinet ministers, Helen McEntee to liaise with Ministers of State, Sean Kelly to represent the MEPs, Martin Heydon as Chairperson of the Parliamentary Party to liaise with non-office holders, Fiona O’Connor, Chairperson of the Executive Council, Daire Lawlor, President of YFG, and Cllr Barry Saul, Chairperson of the Council of Local Representatives. I shall appoint a Senator once the new Seanad is elected.”

Mr Varadkar said he will seek the approval of the parliamentary party next week “before any formal talks on a Programme for Government commence”.

“The final decision to enter Government, should we get to that point, will be made at a Special Delegate Conference.

“In the meantime, the outgoing Government will continue to govern for the good of the nation with full executive authority as provided for in the Constitution.”